HL Deb 27 June 1977 vol 384 cc973-92

6.50 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they intend to take to implement the report of the Home Office Working Party on Vagrancy and Street Offences. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to debate this important Green Paper, the Report of the Working Party on Vagrancy and Street Offences. I should like to take the opportunity of thanking all those who have produced this interesting report, although I am afraid I cannot agree with all its recommendations. As I have told the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, I should like first to discuss street offences. I was sorry that there was no person on the committee who was not an official, but I understand that it was a departmental committee and I am grateful to the voluntary organisations which gave information to that committee.

I should like to know why, the original report having been produced in 1974, it took until 1976 to get the Government's views. I tried previously to have a debate on this subject, but I was told that views were not yet formed, and therefore I am taking this opportunity because I believe there is to be a committee presided over by Professor Williams and some of the points I wish to raise may be useful when that committee is considering future policy.

Noble Lords may know that in 1959, when the Conservative Government brought in the Street Offences Act, I fought it all the way through and took every opportunity in Committee to table Amendments. I failed dismally to get any action, but I should like to pay a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley—and I am sorry he cannot be here today—for the efforts he has made in this House to get a change in the law. For 13 years I was the Chairman of the Status of Women Committee and we argued in favour of equal moral standards, but Section 1 of the 1959 Act penalises for solicitation only the "common prostitute", while ignoring the menace of solicitation by men. I hope—and perhaps the noble Lord will be able to reply to this point—that in view of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 any future legislation will refer to "any persons soliciting", because I believe the 1959 Act is entirely out of line with the new Sex Discrimination Act.

I have personal experience of such discrimination. I was told that some hotels in Park Lane discriminated against women and I went along with a woman friend one night after eleven o'clock, which I was told was the appropriate hour. We asked for a cup of coffee each, we were refused and told to leave. That does not happen to a couple of men, but it happened to me personally and I have checked up with other friends and found that it has also been their experience. Surely in the year 1977 it should be recognised that there should he no difference between the sexes in the standards of morality.

I agree that men and women are equally responsible for any evils arising from prostitution, and I am glad to note from the Green Paper that the offence in Section 3 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 and the provision in Section 3 of the Universities Act 1825 are recommended to be repealed, and I hope the noble Lord will be able to say that this action is to be taken. However, I should like to see the term "common prostitute" eliminated. I do not mean this in any derogatory way but it is a true statement: women would not be on the streets if it were not for men, whereas men solicit both sexes and have no label attached. That is an unfortunate state of affairs. It is regrettable that a young woman may be brought before the court and the term "common prostitute" goes on her record. Later, perhaps she is happily married and is involved in a motoring offence. Surely it must be a great shock to her husband when her record is mentioned.

With regard to the cautioning system, paragraph 95 of the report recommended that this should be retained while admitting that it has little success. If one looks in the main report at page 131, Table XI, one sees that in 1972—and I cannot understand why there are no later figures—despite cautioning, the number of prosecutions, the numbers found guilty, the numbers on probation and on suspended sentences and with a term of one month in prison have increased. The number of cautions given was 3,000, but the interesting figure is that the number of applications to have those cautions expunged was one, and actually that one was not accepted. I should like to suggest that cautioning does not work and it is a waste of time for both the police and others who have to do it.

The imposition of fines forces women to go on the streets again to get the money to pay the fines. Therefore, I am sorry that Recommendation No. 20 is to be continued and I should like the noble Lord to say whether he is in agreement with that recommendation. Whether Recommendation No. 90, a new offence, will have effect in controlling kerb crawling one does not know. It may be helpful but, as has been suggested, I should have thought a simple reversal of the case of Crook v. Edmondson would have been better. I should like to point out that in this and other recommendations the only result is likely to be an increase in the number going into our already overcrowded prisons. I hope if cautioning is to be retained there will be the same action for both sexes. But what worries me in regard to kerb crawling is that it is only too easy for a man to park his car round the corner, go and solicit a woman, take her to the car, and once she is in the car she is helpless.

I understand that at any one time there are between 20 and 25 prostitutes in Holloway prison. That is the only prison for which I have been able to obtain the figures. Surely hostels would be better for that type of offence, particularly for young girls. It will not be possible to change the way of life of the older women, and here the young girls meet with the older women and learn (shall we say?) the tricks of the trade, which in my view is most unpleasant for them.

The 1959 Act also made many young girls go underground and depend on pimps and ponces. They have to depend on a man because if they share a flat with another girl it is called a brothel and it is illegal, as is advertising. I should like to suggest that two or three girls might be allowed to share a flat. Rents are very high and if two or three were to share together they could get a better class of accommodation, give a better service, and live a better life because they can protect each other.

The normal sexual instincts, being so potent and constant, produce a fertile field for the promotion of need in a highly profitable business and prostitutes often cannot afford to choose between one client and another. The Wellclose Square Foundation has made an excellent study of this problem and I am only sorry that they did not give evidence, according to the Green Paper. In his book Prostitutes Jeremy Sandford said: We are most of us amateurs in love-making but they"— that is the prostitutes— are professionals".

That is sad, but I think it is true, and although in some ways we look down on prostitutes, many of them are in many ways helpful to their clients.

Turning to the United Nations Charter, the 1967 Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women states, in Article 8, that all appropriate measures, including legislation, shall be taken to combat all forms of traffic in women and the prostitution of women. Therefore, I consider that no person should he convicted of annoyance without the evidence of the person aggrieved; also that the purpose of prostitution should not be part of any offence. It is well known, too, that there are escort agencies and the girls are not necessarily prostitutes. However, I gather that they are often classed as prostitutes by vice squads, who have photographs of all the girls, which they can produce at any time.

Having studied this problem and finding that girls are often open to blackmail, I hope the Minister will ask his right honourable friend the Home Secretary to consider the total abolition of all laws concerning prostitution, thus avoiding blackmail and many other undesirable actions and the sweeping under the carpet, particularly in respect of the younger girls, as has happened since the 1959 Act. I think there should be a high and equal regard for standard morality and sexual responsibility and public opinion in law and in practice. People experiencing persistent nuisance in public places have, of course, recourse to the law, but they should be required to give evidence in court. I am dividing my speech, and I will now turn to the subject of vagrancy, if I may.


My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend would allow me to intervene. Did she really mean all laws on prostitution? Surely she did not mean laws covering the exploitation of prostitution.

Baroness VICKERS

Well, my Lords, if the persons complaining had to go to law to prove it, that is what I should like to see. I do not want laws against the prostitutes. As I said before, there are very few people who ever go, and you very seldom catch people who are actually exploiting. I should like the girls not to be punished in the way they have been punished in the past. In view of the fact that some definite suggestions have been made in regard to vagrancy, I should like to ask the Minister whether he will say on which points the Government intend to take action. Does he agree with Recommendations 3, 4, 10, 11 and 12; that matters in previous legislation, shall be abolished or repealed without replacement? Will action be taken on Recommendations 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9? If so, will a Bill be produced in the near future.

I only want to confine my remarks on this section to vagrancy. There is a Yiddish proverb: From dust we come, to dust we return; Betwixt and between a drink comes in handy It is regrettable that the vagrancy problem has increased three-fold since Governments made cuts in hostel accommodation. The casual wards in the former workhouses have been shut, as have such places as the Rowton Houses, and prison sentences have been shorter. Previously vagrants could plan their lives, as it should be recognised that true vagrancy—I want to make this point very definitely—is a trade and not a misfortune in the majority of cases. The number of dangerous vagrants on the road has increased. Police harassment, especially in this year, has increased considerably. New roads, in particular from Scotland—and Scots form a large percentage of the vagrants—have increased, and it means that they can travel more easily from town to town and continue the conning of the various agencies. Misfortune sets in only when too much alcohol has rendered the vagrant incapable of plying his trade.

I understand there are about 370,000 "cowboys", which is their term for themselves, and they have a dictionary of words and their own language to describe the ways of conning all authorities. I had an opportunity to study all this because when I was at Plymouth that town was known as the end of the line. It had a very remarkable man called Roberts Leakiewicz. He was a portrait painter, and he painted many of the "cowboys". He learned their language and he asked them seven different questions. and printed their views in a book. In Plymouth—and I imagine in quite a lot of other towns—the vagrant population has increased since the Second World War. One police constable who gave his views in this book stated that in his experience vagrants rarely want to reform; they just want somewhere to sleep at night. It seems that if- you do not want to be reformed you cannot have a place to sleep. The police have the duty under the law that the vagrant be first directed to a place of reasonable shelter. The nearest shelter may be miles away. The vagrant would need to refuse to go there before he could be arrested. So they just move on.

One of the difficulties is that the standard of living has risen so rapidly in the past 50 years that the vagrants stand out like a sore thumb. The problem has always been with us, but it is now highlighted by its contact with affluence. When many of us in this House were young a tramp was a member of society. If he came to your door you might say, "Hey you, go to the back door, that is your place". Then he would be given food. He had his place in society. The workhouses were the country seats of the vagrant. He knew where they were; he knew how many miles it was to the next one, and he knew when it shut. Nothing, unfortunately, has replaced this type of accommodation. The Salvation Army tries to help, but they have other commitments. All these so-called "cowboys" are anxious to keep their way of life. They have their own nicknames—-"Duggie", "Jock". In fact Jock wrote an excellent poem of which I will be very happy to give to the Minister a copy. "Butch", "Harmonica Jim"; they answered the questions in the book: I am an outcast. But I can work if I want to. I can get a room if I want to. I am just happy as I am, that is all". The terms of reference have meant that the Working Party was instructed to look at the provisions of the Vagrancy Acts, doing the job by Statute without regard for the plight in general of homeless single persons. How is imprisonment or a fine going to assist people? They will have to do something they would not wish to do in order to pay the fine. The National Assistance Board report for 1966—the last figures I could get—showed that 24.5 per cent. of persons sleeping rough ascribed their doing so to necessity. Women are less of a problem, but even today, I gather, 20 to 25 vagrant women are in Holloway Prison. Surely, they should not be filling up our overcrowded prisons. I think that other accommodation should be found. Another problem has arisen with regard to vagrant women; there are a number of young ones coming over from the EEC countries to England with a one-way ticket; they are picked up by the police from time to time and there are quite a number of them also in Holloway Prison.

I hope, my Lords, that I have not spoken too long on this very important report. I have tried to give a brief outline of the two measures in which I am particularly interested. I understand that Professor Williams' committee will be sitting. I hope the Minister will tell us what will be its terms of reference. I shall be very grateful if the Minister will consider the points I have made, and perhaps agree that the Government should take action. I should like to thank him particularly for coming today because I know it is not his normal work; that he is standing in for his noble ft lend Lord Harris of Greenwich. Therefore, I am doubly grateful to him for the interest he takes, and for coming here to answer this Question.

7.8 p.m.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Vickers for drawing our attention to this report, especially as it is such an important one dealing with so many different offences about which, in one way or another, one hears nearly every day through the Press. Until my noble friend drew my attention to this report, I did not realise that so many offences existed. On reading the report I was glad to see that some of these are now going to be quietly shelved, or put out of their misery. I should also like to congratulate the Working Party on this report, not an easy one by any manner of means. Though we can criticise the time that it has taken to produce the report nevertheless it must have taken an enormous amount of patient work to get opinions and observations upon some of the crimes and the ways and means of dealing with them.

I would prefer to make observations rather than a lengthy speech, because my noble friend has covered the subject and the different crimes extremely well. One that she mentioned was prostitution, and I see that the 1959 Act is to be retained. The Working Party gave a great deal of thought to the subject of indecent displays. As I told your Lordships, I should like to make observations rather than a detailed speech. First, the Working Party had to find out the meaning of the word "indecent", the extent to which they could go in trying to change the offences embraced by that word and how to bring it up to date with modern thinking. We now have such events as peepshows, which are becoming increasingly popular, and the difficulty is to ensure that children do not get too near what I believe are called these "quick film" units. The difficulty is to stop them spending their money and viewing the vulgarity. I confess that I have no idea what such films are like, but I am told that in America they are pretty foul.

Equally, I am interested in the severe fines and punishments which the Working Party recommend and with which I agree. I notice that the report recommends that anyone who owns a shop which has these particular items should have a licence and that failure to have such a licence would mean a fine of £400 or three months' imprisonment. I believe that that is excellent especially for such severe crimes, particularly if we can keep children away from such shows.

I was interested in what the report says about the act of indecent exposure, which is one of the worst crimes. I imagine that the Working Party found it extremely difficult to obtain any new ideas on how to deal with that. Paragraph 41 on page 10 of the report says: Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 makes it an offence for a ' person wilfully, openly, lewdly and obscenely, to expose his person with intent to insult any female '. This offence is limited to exposure by a male of the genital organ to a female with specific intent to insult". The Working Party started very well on that and then got down to trying to break it down further in paragraph 43, which says: Our Working Paper suggests that these provisions should be replaced by a new offence whose essence would be exposure of the male genital organs in such circumstances that the exposer knew or ought to have known that his exposure was likely to be seen by persons to whom the exposure was likely to cause offence". They then proposed a maximum fine of £100 and/or three months' imprisonment. In that respect they got down to the right wording for that particular crime. I wonder whether the penalty of £100 and/or three months' imprisonment is sufficiently high. A man committing that act must surely know in his own mind that he is doing it, unless he is mentally sick. I simply wonder whether that penalty is sufficient.

The other interesting part of the report is under the heading. "Being Found on Enclosed Premises". I looked very hard in the report to find out whether squatters were to be included. We have had a great many problems of squatters taking over houses, offices and so on. I believe that squatters should have been included because the problem arises of trying to evacuate them from premises. The report goes right round the subject of trespass, breaking in and so on, but does not mention squatting. I suppose and presume that it is the same as "trespassing". It appears that at this stage one is unable to move squatters. I believe that the word "squatting should have been included in the report.

Except for one further point, I think that those observations are sufficient. We on these Benches agree with many parts of the report, but we must stress that the punishment must fit the crime. To become too liberal with punishments might encourage some to think in the year 1977 that they are able to run amok, wearing no clothes, or partake in habits which are not enjoyed or liked by the public. Therefore the punishment must definitely fit the crime.

However, there is one problem which it is difficult to overcome, and that concerns the prison aspect. If an individual does not pay his fine automatically he goes to prison for one or three months. However, we do not have enough room in our prisons to maintain that type of pressure. Every day people break these laws; if they do not have the money or are downand-outs, they have to go to prison. Therefore, do the Government have any thoughts on this type of punishment—namely, imprisonment? As I have said, our prisons are greatly overloaded and it must be very difficult for the warders to keep up with this constant coming and going of prisoners undergoing short sentences.

I should like to ask the Government when we can implement the report of the Working Party on Vagrancy and Street Offences. Obviously some parts of the law in this area need modernising, and other parts are not needed. Perhaps now we shall be able to go forward and try to modernise the offences in order to help the police, magistrates and anyone else involved.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to make one short observation. I join with both my noble friends in congratulating those who have prepared the report. They have obviously taken a great deal of trouble and it is a very clear report. However it covers a wide range of offences. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will refer to the committee that is about to be set up under Professor Williams. I wonder whether it would be possible for him to turn out the committee's recommendations on these various points as quickly as possible. I quite see that he will have first to consider the general principles, but after that it seems quite reasonable that he should consider particular matters one by one.

One of the most obvious and easy things to deal with would be the indecent public displays. My noble friend Lord Long referred to this. I do not need to go into this or comment on it in any way at the present time, but there is no doubt that gratuitously, as the committee say, giving offence to the public is something that is totally unnecessary. Admittedly, there are matters of judgment involved, but to people going along our streets, including those people who come to visit this country from abroad, this really causes offence. It also makes people ashamed when they see foreigners going along the streets and, by looking at some of these indecent displays, taking a view of what kind of a people we are. They seem to me totally unnecessary.

One of the reasons I put this first is that reliance at the moment is placed on Acts of Parliament which are, by and large, so very old. As the Committee say, the courts often do not take kindly to reliance on Acts that seem to be outdated, certainly not on those which are 150 years old or more. This is a relatively simple matter to deal with, with the greatest of deference to my noble friend. Perhaps the subjects she has been talking about are of much greater long-term importance. Considering how old these Acts are and that the object is to modernise them, that probably not a great deal of change is needed, and also that the courts dislike having to rely on such old Acts, it seems to me that this matter ought to be dealt with very quickly. I say that particularly as we have had before us Bills which were aimed at these matters and, for one reason or another, have not gone through. I would suggest to the Government that, in forming their terms of reference to Professor Williams and his Committee, they might recommend that they deal as quickly as they can with these matters, even if other matters may require longer and more mature consideration.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, I also am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this report. I am afraid that I have none of her great experience to enable me to look at this report in the detail in which she has today. I shall be referring only to the part concerned with street offences. The implementation of some parts is obviously more urgent than others; and while appreciating the restricted terms of reference of the report, I must say that feel strongly the absurdity of compartmentalising the single aspect of street prostitution: to that extent, what we are necessarily talking about seems to be a largely cosmetic alteration to the Street Offences Act 1959. For this reason, my remarks will mainly be about the problems of the law as it is, and as proposed in the report, rather than the wider and in most senses more important philosophical considerations of prostitution in society generally.

If I was to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, as [do, that these wider issues should be urgently considered, I would probably be given the same answer that was given by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, at the end of the recent debate on homosexuality; namely, that the Home Secretary's Criminal Law Revision Committee and the Policy Advisory Committee on Sexual Offences are considering the wider issues of prostitution, and that they will report in due time. This may not be until next year. Thus, to answer the implied query in the last sentence of paragraph 89 of the report, I would say that it was very desirable to look at the definition of street offences again in the wider context of the whole of the law on sexual offences.

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord WellsPestell, could say whether the two committees I have just referred to have specifically asked for written opinions on prostitution when asking organisations to submit evidence. The processes to achieve any changes in the law following a new report will no doubt take a considerable time. Also, without being unduly cynical, I cannot see a sympathetic approach to prostitution being a vote-winning issue at any time. Given that rather pessimistic view of the priority of prostitution as an issue, I agree that some cosmetic revision may be acceptable pending a larger review.

With those reservations, I think I am broadly convinced by the report before us on maintaining of the system of cautioning, and on the increasing of lines to realistic levels for female prostitution. Again, I broadly agree with the report's conclusion on kerb-crawling, although I would support a formal cautioning system as a safeguard. Perhaps I could mention an area of prostitution not directly relevant to street offences but, in my view, inextricably bound up with it: that is the proliferation of massage parlours. This is a problem which, as I see it, will not wait for the leisurely general view of prostitution that I have just referred to.

There was a very good examination of this problem on London Weekend Television's "London Programme" about two months ago. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, took part in the discussion following a filmed report. The problem, as I am raising it here, is not the fact of the existence of these establishments, but how they are operated and financially controlled. The huge sums of money involved in what the law says is an illegal business inevitably attracts the criminal element. It is extremely difficult for the police to prove that the law is being broken, both in gathering evidence at the level of public interface, and in connecting the bosses who receive the big money with anything illegal.

A relatively recent development, following some successful prosecutions of escort agencies, is the openly advertised visiting massage services. It was alleged in the programme I referred to that a single organisation using a dozen different names and telephone numbers could make up to £150,000 a year. A chief inspector for the Metropolitan Police said that the present law was simply not adequate to tackle this sort of situation. It is worth saying that these enormous profits are estimated only from the ostensibly legal massage fee of, say, £15: what is earned by the girls for extra services may be three or four times more than that. So the total sums of money involved are considerable.

One by-product of this might be that this wealth is used to finance further, and socially much more damaging, criminal activity. This situation would seem to demand urgent attention. While we are discussing useful but cosmetic alterations to the 1959 Act, it seems that one of the main aims of recent legislation, in preventing third parties profiting from prostitution, is being thwarted. While there remains the basic contradiction at the root of the law's attitude to prostitution—that the act itself is not illegal, but activities which lead to that act are—the kind of situation I have just described is not surprising.

Society may fairly want to discourage prostitution and make entry to the profession difficult and unattractive for young girls. For this reason we choose to keep prostitution firmly beyond the fringes of respectability, and in various ways harass its practitioners, though not their customers. To the extent that we degrade prostitutes for this purpose, we are also degrading human beings.

It is too easy to put minorities conveniently outside what we call society, to cushion its internal contradictions; and just as in a real sense a society can be judged by the way it treats its slaves or guest-workers or immigrants, I think that our attitude to prostitutes mirrors unresolved problems that are fairly central to society, a society which of course includes prostitutes themselves. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, can tell us that a wider and more general review of prostitution is being made. I do not want to supply him with reasons for Government inertia—I am sure he is quite capable of providing his own—but, in a realistic mood, I can see changes in legal attitudes to prostitution taking place only following a wider review of prostitution, rather than resulting from the report before us on street offences.


My Lords, I wish to apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, for having spoken out of turn; I misread the list of speakers and I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, was going to speak and I rose when I did not see Lord Craigton in his place.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened carefully to the comments that have been made in this debate because I knew before it started that my right honourable friend had expressed the view tht he would be interested to know what views, expressions and opinions would be put forward this evening. The House may be aware that the Government have accepted this report in principle and have announced that they intend to seek an early legislative opportunity to implement its proposals.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, asked me why there had been so long an interval between the Working Party's working paper and the Working Party's report. The period was something like two years, but those two years were taken up by the Working Party getting the opinions of various people who had expressed interest so that they could produce their working paper before considering the report. Thus, the two years followed the Working Party's working paper. That was made available, as the noble Baroness pointed out, in 1974 to people who were interested to read it and communicate their views, comments and observations to the Working Party, who considered them before producing the report. No time was lost and there was not an interval of two years in which nothing was done.

The noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, rather suggested that the Government were guilty of inertia. I will not deny that Governments do not move as fast as a number of people would like them to do, but we must face the fact that we are dealing with the oldest profession known to mankind, a profession which generates much hostility and aggression, although not over the whole field, and when one is dealing with something of this magnitude, which is a tremendous social problem, one must if necessary spend a long time in considering what really is involved before presuming to come forward with solutions. This is not an easy matter. Indeed, I can think of no more difficult sphere in which to come to a conclusion which will meet the wishes and needs of everybody.

The majority of the recommendations concern the repeal of the Vagrancy Acts and the replacement of the offences where necessary to meet modern circumstances. I am sure we would all agree that these archaic Acts, as many of them are, should be repealed and the offences replaced where necessary by modern ones. It is a matter for debate how far these offences need to be replaced. There are many people in this House and, I am sure, in the country as a whole, who are quite clear in their minds as to what should and what should not be permitted. The Government must consider, if they can consider with any degree of accuracy, the opinion of society as a whole—what society is prepared to accept and what it is not prepared to accept. As I say, while this debate has gone on for a good many years, and, I am sure, will go on for a good many more, in general the Government accept the Working Party's recommendations.

As regards the law on indecent displays —I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for intervening on this subject because he has had a good deal of experience in this sphere—the Government have concluded that the law on obscenity and indecency as a whole should be subjected to a fundamental review; and, as Lady Vickers rightly pointed out, a departmental committee on the subject will be chaired by Professor Bernard Williams. The appointment of Professor Williams as chairman has only recently been announced. The committee has not yet been appointed but the noble Baroness asked me to state its terms. I understand the terms to be to review the laws concerning obscenity, indecency and violence in publications, displays and entertainments in England and Wales, except in the field of broadcasting, and to review the arrangements for film censorship in England and Wales, and to make recommendations.

As regards Part II of the report, which relates to street offences, some of the recommendations concerning penalties for street soliciting by prostitutes and homosexual soliciting are, as your Lordships know, being debated in another place in the Criminal Law Bill. Nothing has been said tonight about kerb crawling, but while the Government in general accept the Working Party's proposals, they consider that legislation on those aspects should wait until further progress has been made with the Criminal Law Revision Committee's wider review of sexual offences. I do not think I can say to Lord Craigavon more than that, except that its remit is to make a wider review than hitherto.

The House will recognise that, while we should have liked to deal this Session with more of the problems studied by the Working Party, it has not been possible to do so, but we intend to seek an early opportunity with a view to bringing in legislation. I do not know whether it is necessary for me to say anything about certain other aspects. Lady Vickers raised the question, to summarise her remarks roughly, of sleeping rough, and one has to bear in mind that this is a very real problem. The existing provisions make it an offence for a person to wander abroad and lodge in certain places without giving a good account of himself, but the prosecution must prove either that the defendant declined to use a reasonably accessible place of free shelter or that he is likely to cause infection with vermin. As noble Lords who have read the Working Party's paper and report will know, the Working Party proposes a new offence to replace the present one which is not apt nowadays, although the nuisance continues. The proposal attracts opposition—I recognise this—from pressure groups, such as the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless, who have pressed for the decriminalisation of vagrancy offences; but we consider that, while some degree of public nuisance has to be tolerated, there is still a place for the criminal law in its control.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, drew attention to the plight of the vagrants. I accept this, but we are dealing with an entirely different problem today from the problem which existed before the war, to which I can cast back my mind. There were literally thousands of vagrants; it became necessary to have, at strategic intervals, what we then used to call casual wards, to be able to meet the need of the tramp or the vagrant, many of whom were both very infectious and very verminous. The situation today bears little or no relationship to the situation which we then found.

There are views expressed to the effect that we ought to be providing facilities for such people and that these facilities should be available when they get to a certain point, and I have much sympathy with this; but I would suggest that the provision of such facilities would he disporportionate to the number of people who would need them. Before the war I had some experience of this problem in the field of professional social work in which I was engaged, and I never came across a casual ward that was not full. I cannot remember a single casual ward where the men did not line up in the afternoon in order to get in. But today the problem does not arise to the same degree, and it would mean providing a large number of hostels, rather than casual wards, which would probably be used by only one, two, or three people each day or each night; and I do not think that the figure would be anything more than that.

It may be that we have to do something in this field, and I presume that, if we do, it will he the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Security. But we must realise that it would be frightfully expensive, and I would not at this stage hold out any hope of being able to do anything about it.

As I explained earlier, the Professor Williams Committee will have responsibility for the matter of indecent displays, which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, raised. The noble Baroness asked me to express my own view on one or two matters, but this of course I cannot do; I can express only the view of the Government. I should love to express my own view on what I think of indecent displays. All I can say is that I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and I should like to feel that something would be done about this at the earliest possible moment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, while dealing with the whole question of prostitution, asked me for a view on this. The law on prostitution is being looked at as part of the wider review of sexual offences, as I told the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon. Meanwhile, I do not think that we can undertake to do as she suggested; namely, to substitute the word "any" for"common prostitute". I think that this would be a very unlikely solution, and I think that the reasons for that are set out very clearly in the final report of the Working Party, which I know she has seen.

I wish to come back to the question of vagrancy and the points put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, regarding the criminal law. As I said, the Government have accepted all the Working Party's recommendations and intend to implement them; but I must point out that the Government have made it perfectly clear that at present jury trial stays for homosexual soliciting, with the effect of having higher penalties. As the noble Baroness knows, there has been much discussion about whether or not there should be jury trial for homosexual soliciting, and in view of the representations made to them, the Government have come to the conclusion that jury trial must be maintained.

I believe that I have answered the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Long, on indecent displays, by saying that this comes within the reference of the Professor Williams Committee. The noble Viscount also raised a matter concerning closed premises, and I should say that in general this point does not extend to squatters, unless they are there for criminal purposes.

I now wish to turn to the question which the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, raised, of massage parlours, as well as similar establishments. The Home Secretary has expressly asked the Criminal Law Revision Committee to look at this matter, and this, too, is part of the wider review which we hope to give.

I do not think that I can usefully add anything more to what I have already said, other than to say that I know that Hansard will be read tomorrow with some considerable interest by my right honourable friend at the Home Office; that the Government certainly are not unmindful of the urgency of this matter, and are certainly not unmindful of the changes which must be made—

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord a question on one point. He has not mentioned the Sex Discrimination Act and what is now the difference, as opposed to the Street Offences Act 1959. Will that be taken into consideration? Surely it contravenes the Sex Discrimination Act.


My Lords, I cannot honestly say that I know what is in the mind of my right honourable friend regarding this matter, but I can say now that the fact that the noble Baroness has raised it means that it will certainly be considered.